Second woman sues Svenhard’s over sexual harassment


Second sexual harassment suit against Exeter-based bakery includes COO’s great nephew John Kunkel

By Paul Myers @PaulM_SGN

EXETER – Exeter-based manufacturer of baked goods, Svenhard’s is facing its second sexual harassment related case in less than three months.

Angelica Ruiz filed a complaint Feb. 23 in federal court against Svenhard’s Swedish Bakery and fellow employee John Kunkel, son of former Exeter city manager John Kunkel and great nephew of chief operating officer, David Kunkel. Ruiz claims she was discriminated against because of her sex, administrative neglect and was the victim of sexual battery while performing her job.

According to court documents filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California Ruiz was hired on Aug. 24, 2017 as a grocery line production member. She was later, “forced to interact with [David Kunkel’s great] nephew…who immediately subjected [Ruiz] to a constant pattern of sexual harassment and created a hostile work environment.”

According to the same documents Ruiz was exposed to inappropriate and unwelcomed sexual advances and sexually suggestive remarks by John. Ruiz claims that John rubbed himself on her buttocks on Nov. 2, 2017. The following day, Nov. 3, Ruiz made a complaint to her supervisor Joey Gutierrez and union representative Chris Zent. Court documents contend that a month later on Dec. 8, 2017 Ruiz met with Zent to give a statement about John’s behavior. After the meeting Ruiz went to pick up her check and was then asked to speak with the Human Resources manager Dee Haworth.

According to the same documents Ruiz was informed by Haworth that Svenhard’s was considering firing her for reportedly being on the phone while she was clocked in. Ruiz said she was given permission to be on the phone by her boss. During the instance she was on the phone, Ruiz was discussing the sexual harassment complaints with union representation. Ruiz also learned that day the “word was out” she had made a complaint about John.

Filed documents show that around Dec. 22, 2017, Ruiz met with Haworth, Haworth’s secretary and Zent, where Haworth said John was still going to be allowed to work in his current capacity.

As a result of the harassment against Ruiz, she states she has suffered significant emotional and physical distress, including but not limited to, severe headaches, stomachaches, depression, sleeplessness and anxiety.

Ruiz is seeking a jury trial, compensatory damages that include $500,000 for mental and emotional distress, civil penalties, punitive and exemplary damages, court costs, attorney’s fees, interest and all other necessary and appropriate relief. She is represented by Marcelo A. Dieguez of Diefer Law Group, P.C.

Ruiz is the second such employee to file suit against Svenhard’s and managers. Lorena Velasquez filed a complaint on Dec. 19, 2017 against the bakery and its foreman Israel Sanchez and supervisor Marcelino Chaires, claiming that they violated her rights under the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the California Fair Employment and Housing Act. Both Ruiz and Velasquez live in Lindsay.

According to court documents, Velasquez began working night shifts on the singles line at Svenhard’s main production facility on Industrial Drive in Exeter on Jan. 11, 2016. “Almost immediately after starting work at Svenhard’s” Velasquez alleges that she was subjected to inappropriate comments by her then-supervisor, Israel Sanchez, who made comments about her jeans.

Velasquez reported the incident to her union representative in February or March 2016 but claims that “Svenhard’s management took no action in response.” Velasquez then requested a transfer to “escape the verbal abuse” and was reassigned to the 4 a.m. shift in sanitation rather than a similar position somewhere else on the line. Sanchez was not terminated or reassigned.

In May or June 2016, Velasquez was reassigned to work the make-up line. Shortly after starting the new position, Velasquez claims that her new supervisor, Chaires, began making inappropriate comments to her about the different ways in which he would have sex with her, as many as three times a day nearly every day she worked. She also alleges that Chaires would stand in a corner and leer at her before coming over and making the comments, even standing behind her and telling her that he wanted to grab her.

After repeatedly telling Chaires to stop making the inappropriate comments, Velasquez filed a written complaint against the supervisor on July 19, 2017, with Dennis Richards in human resources with Svenhard’s. A week after she filed the complaint, Velasquez stated that Chaires came over and made another lewd comment to her in Spanish. On Aug. 8, 2017, Chaires was suspended.

After filing the complaint, Velasquez was reassigned to work the night shift under Sanchez again. She states that she believed the reassignment and a disciplinary warning on Sept. 1, 2017 were both issued in retaliation for her complaints of sexual harassment. The complaint goes on to say that two female coworkers, who are friends of Chaires, have also made comments and expressed their disapproval with her while Chaires and Sanchez continue to harass her and other women at the company.

As a result, Velasquez states she has suffered significant emotional distress, loss of enjoyment of life and irreparable harm to her reputation.

article updated March 7 at 10:05 a.m.

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